Charles Rehn - Democrat for President 2004

A Conversation With America
Questions That Must Be Answered
Web Edition (c) 2002, 2003 Charles Rehn All Rights Reserved




Promises Made: The Real Contract With America


I remember years ago hearing my father talk against a "welfare state". And then, a few years later when he was unemployed with 6 children to feed and take care of, he swallowed his pride and went with my mother to the welfare office and signed up for welfare.

Now, personally, I loved the canned pork roast and the cheese. As a 6 or 7 year old child, I, of course, never gave any thought to whether or not I was going to have another good meal or a roof over my head, let alone medical care. Once my parents got working again, they were glad to be back on their feet and moving forward. That was easy to observe.

I'm really not the type who thinks anyone is served by hand-outs. I believe in empowering people.  That includes teaching people, learning from them, understanding them, making sure they have the opportunity to live in a society and a culture that truly appreciates the work of people as partners in building a lasting system, or a company that works or a community that really reflects the values of its citizens.

Part of the promises made... the real contract with Americans, has been the pension systems and social programs that have been instituted to provide social safety nets and basic needs to survive.

Bad things do happen to good people. And, nearly 60% of Americans inevitably rely on Social Security income. Because they were promised it would be there for them.

I understand the backlash in America regarding paying for social programs. We all work hard and do whatever we do, and as productivity rises, there are fewer jobs, and you wonder where you're going to come out financially, you work more hours for the same pay and you're thankful that YOU haven't lost your job.

It's hard to be concerned at times like this with the needs of other people, let alone people who are depicted as lazy, un-intelligent and "having chosen" to be unemployed. That includes about 10 million people included in our 6.1% unemployment rate AND the people who have lost their jobs in the last few years and have simply given up.

Let's face it. How can anyone even make sense of what we do get for our money, what works and what doesn't, or what measurable results can be relied upon. No wonder we have become reluctant to contribute to such programs.

But, these are the kinds of times when we're supposed to unite and work together most. This is the very kind of time when that "social contract" is needed. It's the very reason it was created.

But the policies are being abandoned. More disastrously, the people they were designed to empower are being abandoned. It IS about people. Never forget that.

Our Promise to the Military

We talk a great deal about honoring our military personnel. In our disagreements regarding war and peace, they nearly become collateral damage in the way we link the justice and wisdom of war with the support of the military.

Military people sign a contract with America. They have proven to us time and time again, whether the government and the people have agreed with war and military actions, that they can be relied upon and will make the ultimate sacrifice to serve our nation.

As we are tending to streamline the government by abandoning entitlements and benefits, our government is breaking its promises to the military. While great political gains are reaped, our fellow citizens put their lives on the line. They're told that we will care   for them in return for their service.

But when it comes right down to it, our government continually reduces budgets at the expense of their well being, at the expense of their families and at the expense of the pride they have in serving a country that prides itself on its values and honoring those who serve it.

20 year career military personnel in World War II and the Korean War eras were told that they would receive veteran's benefits for the rest of their lives. The governmental trend of the 80's to reduce benefits led to the mid-90's re-assignment of responsibilities to Medicare - interesting all by itself when you consider that it was considered a downgrade in benefits, and what that means to our retiring elders and disabled or impoverished people who have legitimate need of the benefits.

Vietnam veterans came home to a hostile political environment, and so honoring them was set aside in order to focus attention on other things. It took years for the government to recognize the effects of agent orange.

Even now, the government prefers to tell us there is no such thing as Gulf War Syndrome.

The number of  homeless veterans is rising, for a plethora of reasons, most directly related to impacts of their service.

The greater issue underlying all of this gets cluttered over by the appeasement of tax breaks and great speeches. Despite all the glory, the courts decided that, despite the promises, there was no legal and binding agreement to hold the government to its verbal promises.

Even more, Congress is trying very hard to reduce benefits and services even more by reducing funding for veterans affairs and medical facilities. That often translates into waiting months to receive treatment, if treatment is available at all.

This is one more example of how the government, caught in the whirl of politics and winning elections, often neglects or forsakes its commitments, things that people count on for their very existence.

It is not just a downright shameful thing. Just more misleadership. And people wonder why I'm so skeptical.

Caring for Our Elders
It used to be that families, and communities, honored their elders both by finding ways to be sure to include them in our culture - to pass down heritage and wisdom and tradition - and by making certain they were cared for as they grew older.

But, like my 89 year old great grandmother (who lived until she was 101), she was an independent person, and wanted to live by herself and do for herself as long as she could.   Over the years, that independence and changes in other cultural trends actually honor that independence by finding homes and communities for our elders when they retire. It's convenient and relieves us of the burden of caring for them ourselves - and I won't criticize that, because it's often better medical or nutritional care.  But it causes us to forget, when we talk of programs, that we're not just talking about programs, we're talking about people. People we love. People, eventually, like us.

We make a great deal of hay over the fact that advances in science and medicine and nutrition cause us to live longer, and of course that's a good thing. With it, of course, is the fact that it means people will encounter more health care requirements for longer periods of time.

After the Great Depression, and with the Grand Old Society forwarded by Lyndon Johnson, the government of the United States entered into a contract with the American people.   The government's response, over time, has been to slowly divest itself of the responsibility to live up to its commitments.

I believe it's entirely appropriate to consider revising programs so they can be better managed and provide better care.  If things need to be changed, then so be it. But it shouldn't be done in a slow but sure, bit by bit corrosion. It should be presented openly and honestly, so that people can actually make an apples to apples comparison and make choices based on fact and value, and not political campaigns or choosing the lesser of evils.

We have a need, and a right to know what direction our elected officials are taking us. We have a need, and a right to remind our government that their job is to serve the citizens interests in order to empower our society and our businesses, too.

But once a promise is made, it should not be broken or revised in order to force people to continue working beyond their own plan or choice because of financial pressure and age qualifications, or because their pensions were lost to corruption or poor pension program planning and management.

That was the parachute of the Social Security System. That people could know that, if nothing else, that there was at least that small amount of support. And, of course, we are trying to end that commitment as well.

If the United States Government was held to the same standards as corporate entities, they might be investigated for fraud, or at least, breech of contract.

There is little difference in the case of Medicare.

But, the bigger issue with Medicare, and our health care system, is to acknowledge most of all that people who are not healthy aren't going to be as productive. All I can really say is, imagine you were very ill, possibly going to die, and the medicine that could save your life is in a store a block away. But you don't have the money to pay for it.

Would you simply have me say "That's not my problem. It's your destiny". Remember, we're talking about your life.

And still, I have to agree that we are not socialists. But, the baby boom generation has paid its share of the premiums this government has said were required in order to provide them benefits. If the system was mis-managed, then we must face that reality and deal with it, not just abandon it instead and the people whose government made them a promise.

The alternative being offered is that we should invest in the stock market, one way or the other through various retirement programs. It would be hard to justify this sort of conversion at this time.

I believe Americans need a government that is willing to be straightforward and candid not just about the legislation it proposes, but about the long term results that should be expected. And then, the government should be held to its word. And responsible enough to be sure that the promises made - the things that make sense to Americans for all the right reasons that are used to win elections - are kept and can be relied upon.

This is not a discussion of simple ideology or theory. This is a simple matter of representing the individual citizens of this country. I hope we have not become so numb as to simply turn our heads to such betrayals.

The list of such things grows and grows and grows.

Lawmakers: Employers could dump retiree health coverage
Democrats and Republicans in Congress fear that if Medicare expands to pay for prescription drugs, private employers will be tempted to skim their retiree coverage. Government economists and private analysts share their concern. According to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, up to 37 percent of employers would drop health benefits for retired workers under the Senate bill.

The Great Depression, FDR & the New Deal An educational site designed to provide a vast collection of materials and photos of the depression era.

An interesting essay regarding the depression

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(C) 2002,2003-2009 Charles Rehn Jr IV  All rights reserved